Quotidian means "Every Day"

"Quotidian" means everyday, ordinary, routine acts or places. It doesn't get more quotidian than a bathroom...or a kitchen....or the bed in which we sleep. Interestingly, those are the places buyers look first, when considering a new home. It may be that only in real estate exchanges, do we humans stop to admit the fact that the quotidian rules. It is the most vital thing. Regardless of how high-powered our career may be, or how well-known we may (or may not) be, it is the every day things that are the most important to us, deep down. The leader of the free world takes a shower, eats a snack, and crawls exhausted into a bed at night. Daily.

And so to spend time maintaining these areas of our life is not wasted time. But the work is menial. "Menial" is yet another casualty of our declining understanding of the English language. It did not, originally, mean "demeaning". It comes from Latin, and at its root means "to remain" or "to dwell in a household".

Certain things you gotta do simply because you are alive and taking up space on this earth. You have to do them every day. The Word of God is full of admonishments to "dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness"....to "occupy til I come"...to buy houses, lands, have children, and plant gardens.

Menial work. Mine is a remaining, dwelling, occupying occupation.

So I cleaned my bathroom yesterday, from top to bottom. It is what I must do in order that my family might dwell and remain. It was satisfying, grounding work - reminding me, as always, that I am earthly and incarnational. Christ in me has never been too spiritual to scrub a floor or a fixture.

In fact, when I accept and enjoy the menial tasks that are part-and-parcel of my womanhood, Christ is formed even more clearly in me.

"So I will always praise Thy name, and day after day fulfill my vows." Ps. 61:9

Day after day after day. Every day, I cook and I clean and I tidy and straighten and fold and smooth and wash and wipe and weed and water and sweep and dust. By giving birth, I bound myself to tend life, to do it as beautifully as I can, to the best of my ability. It was an unspoken vow I made to God, motherhood was, but every bit as real as if I'd signed in blood.

Because my work fulfills those vows, the Lord receives my work as worship, when it is offered with a full and glad heart, to Him.

An End-of-Summer Favorite...

Bring your toothpicks, Gentle Reader, because we don't stand on ceremony in our house. We love to eat our corn right off the cob.

Very soon, this:

will become this:

Like this:

1 Prepare your grill, gas or charcoal, with direct, high heat, about 550°F.

2 Place the corn in their husks (or you can wrap them tightly in foil) on the hot grill. Cover. Turn the corn occasionally, until the husks are charred on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes.

3 Remove corn from grill. Let sit for 5 minutes. Protect your hands while removing the silks and charred husks from the corn, as it will be BEYOND hot!

Serve with coarse salt and butter. Believe it or not, a squeeze of lime is also divine!

Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Psalm 65:9

A Different Kind of Legalism

I love the simplicity of the Christian faith. It has been said that Christianity and simplicity are two sides of the same coin, and I tend to agree. Look at the life of Jesus. Examine the early church with its decided lack of complicated bureaucracy. Consider the doctrinal tenets of your faith, and you will have to admit that they are profoundly deep, yet so simple that even a child can grasp them. Such is the life of the believer...simple, yet absorbingly and richly layered. Not complicated, yet not easy. That sums up the Christian worldview and lifestyle.

The unbeliever complicates everything. God didn't invent the rat race, and He never intended that my life be a perplexing, complex series of pseudo goals to be attained. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after..."

Those words poured from the heart of King David. They are the rich creed of the thinking woman. It requires intellectual vitality to disentagle the knots of modern-day legalism. In the search to "feel better", we've created for ourselves a culture of therapy, where our every emotion is analyzed, our personalities categorized, and the results compared. We can't even enjoy work for the sake of work anymore. We no longer do "whatever our hand finds to do" with a hearty love for the Lord, with all our might, out of conviction alone....our job must match our personality. If not, we have somehow broken the Laws of Happy Living. Locked into a legalism of self improvement, we have sinned against the god of self if we find ourselves not enjoying our job.

Such an apalling lack of imagination. There was a time, when society was more intelligent and more grateful, when every sort of work, if it was hard work and made the lives of others better, was honorable and usually enjoyable.

According to this new legalism, even a simple smile should become an elaborate system of self improvement. Don't believe me? I ran across an article in a section of the magazine "Country Living", entitled "Smiling from the Inside Out - Lilias Folan shares the secrets of a powerful source of healing energy." For your enlightenment (and my utter amusement) I'll recount it for you here, word for word:

Begin by closing your eyes.

Focus attention on your mouth.

Recall someone or something that brings a genuine smile to your lips...

Radiate that smile up into your eyes.

Radiate the energy up into your left ear, then your right one.

Smile into your brain.

Smile into your tongue.

Send the smile down into your voice box.

Smile down into your heart. Feel your heart smiling back at you.

Smile into your left lung, then into your right lung.

Smile into your organs, bones, muscles, and nervous system and feel them all smiling back.

Smile that warm, healing energy to a spot that wants a little extra help today.

Folks, you can't make this stuff up. This is where the legalism of self awareness, and the rules of therapy culture take you.

Give me the simplicity of Christ and an effortless smile and some work for my hands to do. I promise, it will be enough for me.

Rains have come...

Thou waterest the ridges of the earth abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. Psalm 65: 10, 11

Many consider August to be the "crowning of the year". It is the very fullness of summer - August indeed contains its essence.

But. We've gone the entire month of August, here in East Tennessee, without so much as a trace of rain. Today, finally, the rains have come. We are expecting some good, soaking rains through Wednesday. I went out to my flower gardens last night to create a bouquet while I could linger and choose flowers and not get soaked to the skin - in anticipation of the forecast today.

So...there are glorious clouds outside, and I have a bit of sunshine inside!

Holy Wheat Bread

When God gave His son, He gave me the "finest of the wheat". May I be filled with Him...

Ps 147:14 He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.

John 12:24...Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

John 6:48 (Jesus said) "I am that bread of life."

A Word Fitly Spoken

I like a good quote. No, I adore a good quote, value it, and store it away for future reference. Savor with me this gem I ran across today:

"God particularizes; the devil generalizes. God plants a garden within which a great variety of plants grow. The devil plants weeds in the garden that look enough like the plants to make you unsure which is which. God paves a narrow lane; the devil broadens the path until it leads nowhere. God prescribes forgiveness for specific sins; the devil blankets permission for anything and everything..."Attending to spiritual detail yields a life of wholeness and hopefulness. Habits of the heart such as worship, prayer, study, Bible reading, care for the body, hospitality and neighborliness detail the diet of dedicated disciples. Vague spirituality sits on the couch and scoffs at practices that ask something of the soul."

~George Mason, Baptist pastor out of Texas~

August's Finery

"Fairest of the months!
Ripe summer's queen.
The hey-day of the year
With robes that gleam with sunny sheen
Sweet August doth appear."- R. Combe Miller

Vivid yellow roses - a surprise from my Tim....

Part of our dinner tonight...just-snapped green beans, simmered with plenty of onion and bacon, cherry tomatoes, seasoned with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, and a splash of olive oil...simple.

The sunflower and zinnia garden, at its peak this week.

More sunflowers!

The finer offerings of August....

....and a hint of what's to come!

Wordless (Almost) Wednesday

A picture (of more than a thousand words) is worth a thousand words....

Here is what my husband has to deal with, every time he wants to get into his side of the bed....poor guy. And he keeps me, in spite of it. He deserves a medal, for all the years of patience that being married to a bibliophile has required of him.

Tokens ~ In Another's Words...

I'm learning more and more about blogs - both the mechanics of a good blog, and their power and effectiveness, when well-written. Bloggers tend to be gracious folk, too - heart felt with their compliments, both publicly and through private email. Hewitt's book on blogging (see the post in July, "Better Late Than Never") tells me to be very generous with who I link to my blog....so long as that person's blog does not contain what I believe to be theologically heretical or otherwise objectionable material....hey, link 'em!

Then, there is what is called "blog-spotting". If I spot a particularly worthy blog, I tell you about it, with enthusiasm! Good bloggers devote whole posts, regularly, to blog-spotting. And so I join the ranks of the magnanimous, generous, enthusiastic supporters of Other People's Blogs. Today, I blog-spot.

If you haven't the time to go on a link-lark, just read directly below, where I have cut and pasted from Ann Voskamp's blog, "Holy Experience". This blog gets my vote for "best blog" overall, not just for today's entry. Do take time to explore this gem. Ann's photographs are beautiful and evocative and done herself, as opposed to public domain, general photographs that anyone could cut and paste into a blog. Her pictures associated with today's blog will not come through on my blog, so you really will need to visit her personally to get the full effect.

But today's entry struck a chord with me. I'd almost believe that Ann had read my blog of a few days ago, and then was inspired to re-post this previously written entry, today. But no. I'm sure not. I'm not widely read, yet. I am one hundred percent certain that didn't happen....Ann is a recently published writer (two books, at least!), who receives scores of emails and blog responses, so much so she cannot respond to each one any longer.

Ask me how I know. I, myself, was being one of those generous, gracious bloggers who always leaves a positive response with a writer who has truly touched them. I received an automatically generated return email, explaining that, while Ann does read each of her emails, she no longer has time to respond to them personally. I easily understand. With the small volume of church related e-mails, plus the few blog comments I receive, I have a hard time responding to each one.

So I feel sure that, with her six children, her home educating, and her writing career, Ann Voskamp emphatically did not have time to read my entry "Tangible Proofs from a Tangible God." But see for yourself, what she has said today....you'd almost think she did!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Evidence for God
I found the evidence yesterday, unexpectedly, on the trail to the woods. It was at the the curve, just before that large made-for-sitting-on stone, where one can see down into the valley of fields from the top of the hill.

A sea of corn tassels stood stilled, waiting for me to know. The woods behind the fields, dark and green, worshipped silently, anticipating the unveiling, in the morning coming down.
Yet I would have missed it not for the words on the open page of the Bible in hand:“…but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” (Acts 14:17 NLT)

Looking up from His Word, I saw plainly. Right there, on the walk to the woods, stood the stark evidence of the reality of God. Right there, across the undulating fields: undeniable evidence of the Creator of the Universe, spread out before my very eyes.The earth beneath my feet was damp from the rains He had sent in the night.

The good crop of corn stood stock still , iron bars bearing tons of produce.
We had food on the table, in mason jars lining the pantry, in bags of summer sealed in the freezer.

And my heart, the last witness to give testimony to the evidence of God: yes, my heart was full.
The evidence was unmistakable, the proof of God and His goodness so obvious...in a moment in time on the walk to the woods.I saw and I know.Lord, You left the evidence where I couldn’t miss it. And to think I almost did. But You unveiled it: rain, good crops, food, joyful hearts. Now to remember: You are real.
A repost from the archives
Posted by Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience at
7:00 AM
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Dancing With God

For whatever reason, the baby showers I am invited to, almost always take place in the summer. Some years, there has been a veritable rash of summer baby showers. I used the word "rash" carefully, because for me, I enjoy all those little baby shower games about as much as I probably enjoyed diaper rash as an infant. Being the world's worst party...er..."pooper", I am the first to willingly give up my diaper pin, felicitously pinned to my best silk blouse by the mistress of ceremonies. Before I even find my seat, I look around the room and smilingly growl (yes, that is possible to do), "Babybabybaby. Go on, and take the stupid safety pin!"

Then, there usually follows an air of shock and awe, as very few can fathom not wanting desperately to win baby shower games.

There is the inevitable "guess which jar of baby food is what" game. I defy you to tell me the difference between an unlabeled jar of Gerber squash, and an unlabeled jar of peaches. Then, to top it all off, the Olympic Sport of all baby showers: the "guess the circumference of the pregnant mother's belly" games. I grudgingly pull at least three yards from the spool of ribbon, or - for the love of Pete - toilet paper. Happily, the time for opening gifts finally comes.

But somewhere between the diaper pin snatching and the unwrapping of that final gift, I notice "the look" in the expectant mother's eyes. I'd know that look anywhere. It is something akin to mist and awe and fear and an awakening love too powerful to hide. Far greater than a hormone (oh, that some of the extreme emotions relative to womanhood were not obtusely categorized as "hormonal"!) there broods in those eyes a glow of primal celebration. "Unto us a child is born" are words that thrill more than just a Bible reader, they burn in the heart of any woman who has yearned for a baby of her own. When the day arrives that she finds herself opening those gifts of tiny shoes and pajamas and fluffy blankets, something happens. Her heart lurches forward and skips a beat. Her hands may even tremble as they attempt to untie a frosty pink or blue ribbon. She gets "the look" in her eyes - the look that silently betrays her inner longing to hold this baby for the very first time.

Forget the games. They give me hives. I attend baby showers to see that look. I attend baby showers because babies are unspeakable miracles. I show up because babies become the children who dance with God.

Yes, dancing with God is inevitable for children. There will always come an afternoon or morning or night when the Spirit of the Living God "comes out to play", so to speak. That child will experience the presence of God, usually in the absence of the parents - alone on a bed, or outside looking at a flower. It is a very personal thing, quite experiential, and very different from mommy or daddy telling a child that God does, indeed, exist. While almost no one remembers that first awakening awareness of God, we each one were visited by Him in our childhood. We each one danced with God. I stole that phrase from Walter Wangerin, who poingantly describes this supernatural inevitability:

"Who can say when, in any child, the dance with God begins? No one. Not even the child can later look back and remember the beginning of it, because it is as natural an experience (as early and as universally received) as the child's relationship with the sun or with his bedroom. And the beginning, specifically, cannot be remembered because in the beginning there are no words for it. The language to name, contain, and to explain the experience comes afterward. The dance, then, the relationship with God, "faithing", begins in a mist.

..."Faithing", we may say, is not unique to a few people: it is at least initiated in all. It is a universal human experience. We all have danced one round with God. But we danced it in the mists."

Now that I think about it, that is the very mist I see in the eyes of the pregnant mother. How can it be anything but, with the very Spirit of God brooding over her belly? At some point, I believe the point of conception, that baby became a living soul, and the mother manifests the mists of "faithing" in her eyes as she awaits the arrival of this child, of whom the poets said, "Is fresh from God...from beholding the face of God." Pregnancy is when a woman gets to dance another round with her Creator. He takes her in His arms, gently leading her, and together they step and twirl, dip and sway within the mists of His hovering, life giving Spirit, and the mists of emotions too eternal to be put into mere words.

I believe He returns now and again to our lives, when we know Him, to dance. But never will the dance be quite so gentle and so miraculous as when He dances with a pregnant mother, and then a short time later, turns to dance with her child. This is why I try to never miss a baby shower.

But you can still have my diaper pin. I'm just not competitive when it comes to baby shower games.

The dreaded "Diaper the Grown Woman" competition...

"Expectant Sssssssuper Mommy!"

"It's all for Hannah Grace. We didn't eat a bite. Ahem."

....lotta, lotta estrogen in that room!


The mommy (and wife-to-our-youth-pastor) Kelly Bailey, and I. Hannah Grace is yet "in the oven".

Do Mega Churches Prevent Christian Knowledge?

I'm not saying they do. I am not saying that those thousands-of-members churches prevent people from living an authentically Christian life. But GK Chesterton (one of my very favorite dead-guy-writers) would have thought that they do. Consider this quote from Heretics by G. K. Chesterton ~

"It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.

There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan.

But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell.

A big society exists in order to form cliques. A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises.It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge. "

So? Do you agree with Chesterton? You don't have to answer that out loud.

Wish List

If by saying that all men are born equal, you mean that they are equally born, it is true, but true in no other sense; birth, talent, labor, virtue, and providence, are forever making differences.

Resolved to live with all my might while I do live, and as I shall wish I had done ten thousand ages hence.

~both quotes by Johnathan Edwards

You haven't lived, until you've put a $250 book on your wish list. Actually, it is a set of TWO books...hard cover...classic...

Nevermind. Not everyone will understand.

No, I don't expect to actually receive this set of books, but to know they exist is exquisitely bittersweet.

This is the "blank Bible". It is the collection of a lifetime of thoughts on Old and New Testament Scripture, by Johnathan Edwards. The entire process, from concept to publication, is fascinating (well, to me) and you can learn about it here:

Enjoy the bittersweetness of adding this jewel to YOUR wish list! (Many thanks to my friend Dan Bowen, of "Life on Wings" for making me aware of it.)

Tangible Proofs of a Tangible God

Ps. 86:17 Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and comforted me.

There have been days I have needed tangible proof. Thoughts are the intangible currency of my life, they are my art form, rather than concrete things such as houses or drawings or bread baking or paintings or my fingers touching an instrument, physically bringing forth a melody. As a writer I live in my head, out of my head, and from my head, and I am seemingly forever in deep thought. It is exhausting, sometimes.

And on rare occasions, my deepest thoughts and beliefs, even about God, are too abstract to satisfy even me. Even me....who normally finds a mere thought, when it is a new and a great one, to be completely enthralling. It is comforting to know that, when I am needy and worn out from believing in things my eyes cannot see, my God is perfectly willing to show me a token of His great love for me.

Proof. That is what that Hebrew word "token" means. The Bible is full of the mention of tokens from God's heart to man's weary spirit. The sun and the moon are tokens of His faithfulness. Proof. (Ge. 1:14) The rainbow is a token of His forever mercy. Proof. (Ge. 9: 12-17) The blood over the doorposts was a visual token, illustrating future redemption. Proof. (Ex. 12:13) Taking one day a week to rest and contemplate the things of God is meant to be something tangible, that anchors us - something we can return to, week in and week out, and discover God afresh. Proof - lived out every single week. If only we would. (Ex. 31:13, 17) Everything from a scarlet thread, to rocks in a river, to the fringe on a garment; they all were God-given tokens to humans who cannot dwell for very long in an abstract reality.

The incarnation is the Ultimate Token. Word became flesh and lived with us. Jesus said, after His resurrection, "Touch me. An intangible doesn't have flesh and bones like you see I have!"

Down through the corridors of time and eternity, those words find me. They find me where I am, flailing and trying-too-hard to believe in all the words I am reading, in all the true-truths that fill my brain. God invites me to touch Him and see for myself. No - He doesn't just invite me. He pulls me to His heart, takes me in His arms, and pulls from His bottomless pocket a token.

A house to live in.

A puppy to love.

A letter from a friend.

A breeze on a hot day.

I have a list of very personal and tangible proofs, as real and as visual as blood on doorposts, and the fringe on the garment of a priest. You should also have a list. If you don't have one, start one, today. My list is long. Many of the tokens on that list have come in answer to prayer, and I am encouraged and invited and commanded to pray for things I need. Yes, things! Things I can see, and things that others can look at, and see that God has, indeed, been very good to me.

Another list you should have is the list of tokens, for yourself and for others, that you do not yet possess. Some call it a "prayer list".

Justice is a thing. Bread is also a thing. Justice and bread are visible tokens to those that are given them, and a source of great pain to those who do without them. Those are our two examples, illustrated by Jesus, two objectives of insistent, incessant prayer. Bread for the body. Justice for the soul.

We can cry out for tangible proofs, to a tangible God.

He will show us a token for good.

Morning Has Broken ~

Here is what is new in the Atchley-late-summer garden...or, relatively new. Not to sound trite, but these are small harvests of pure pleasure to me:

Finally, after planting these by seed, months ago, the first blossom appears just this very morning...I had given up hope of this Morning Glory ever blooming. Isn't that how hoping in God is? The results, to quote Pilgrim's Progress, are always "longer than you wish, sooner than you think."

Candid shot (really!) of just a few of my Tools of the Trade...I snapped this just after planting some pots of rudbeckia this morning. Better to plant late, than to plant never! Hmmmmmm...isn't that also the way hoping in God is?

Apples, growing just alongside the stump of a plum tree. A plum that had to be cut down, years ago! A surprise blessing, from what seemed to us the sadness of long-ago storm damage.

My "reading girl" statue - through a mist of heirloom cherry tomato plants, whose harvest is, as of this week, full-force!

The last of the patio tomatoes. Not so "full-force" anymore.

Hand-made, "primitive" style tables, created by our retired neighbor, just for us, in our firepit outdoor "living room".

This week's newest sunflower! See the bee? (photo by Hannah Atchley)

Apples from "our" tree. Well...this tree is five steps away from the Atchley property line, and my retired neighbor Earl lovingly insists that we pick as much as we want, anytime we want. So yes. The tree is "mine". This harvest of apples is my harvest. A better batch of fried apples we never tasted! It so rocks to be me.

About a month ago, we wondered where our hummingbirds went. My husband, who loves to watch them, prayed out loud, in front of me, "Lord...please send our hummers back." Now, we have a Hummingbird Sighting every two minutes. Not even lying. They are everywhere, and fly disarmingly close to us, at all hours of the daytime. (photo by Hannah Atchley)

Our Mammoth-variety (we are growing about four different kinds!) of sunflowers finally opened their faces two weeks ago. Here is one of them. (photo taken by Hannah Atchley)

The Boys of Summer...

Nobody on the road,nobody on the beach.

I feel it in the air,the summers out of reach

Empty lake, empty streets,the sun goes down alone.

I'm driving by your house, though I know that you're not home...

And I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun

You got your hair combed back, sunglasses on, baby

And I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong

After the boys of summer have gone.

Some things you can never have back. I used to complain (a little) about the full yard I seemed to have, every summer, for almost as long as I can remember. Our summers here at the Atchley House could have easily been entitled, "The Summers of Boys". Boys in the yard, boys in the trees, boys in the cul-de-sac, and the steady bounce-bounce-bounce of perpetual basketball games.

But school has started this year, already. And for the first time, I realized....this was it. This was the very last and final installment of the Boys of Summer.

For they are all becoming young men.

The tears flow, sudden and unexpected, like a summer storm, even as I sit here typing. My oldest boy has already faded away from the summer scene, having worked full time when school let out, for a couple of years now. Next summer, my youngest, I am sure, will be working full time - doubtlessly saving his money for the coveted Teenaged Ride.

I know. It is a different take, a different perspective on the classic Don Henley song. Lyrics and art can be pliable like that, sometimes. They can be re-interpreted. I won't hear the "Boys of Summer" in quite the same way, ever again. Summertime will never be the same, either. It will have to be re-sung and re-interpreted and re-invented...the lyrical beat of sunrise and sunset, and hot days, and no school, and popsicles will someday apply to future grandsons.

Freckled faces, dark tans, plastic sunglasses from the Dollar Store, water hoses full force, and all the shouting that somehow has changed from tenor into bass. It will vanish, and is vanishing before my eyes. I've never been one to be maudlin. I move from one season into the next rather seamlessly, compared to many. But oh, what I wouldn't give to be able to convince myself that the Boys of Summer - my boys - will still be out there in the sun, young and fresh faced and innocent....forever.

They will live on that way, in my heart. In that mother's heart of mine that aches, sometimes.

Oh yes. "I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong...after the boys of summer have gone..."

One of Life's Joys ~

This is our puppy. Two pounds of fuzzy fury, named Rambo. He's a silver teacup poodle, and has, with a sweep of his paw, changed the tenor of our household since he came. My manly husband melts into a smiling boy, each afternoon as he comes home from work. Rambo fills the void left by small children, who used to crowd the glass door every day when daddy came home. Now they are grown, and almost always gone when he drives up into our steep driveway. Our youngest son Isaac might be home, but he no longer squeals and jumps up and down, arms waving, yelling, "Daddy's home!!!"

He's going on sixteen, you see.

But the puppy senses when dad is on his way to home and hearth. I guess it is the daily phone call I get, "Hi Beautiful! I'm on my way home. Need anything?" (No lie. Every day. I am a blessed woman. It so rocks to be me!) Rambo must be able to observe and understand my voice and tone, whenever it is Tim, telling me he is headed this way. That itty silver bit of soft fluff will always skitter to the front glass door, and watch until he sees the old green mini van pull up.

Then, he jumps up and down, twirls, and barks loudly. There's no way around it ~ he has to be saying, "Pappa's home! Pappa is home!" That is not a stretch, nor is it overly imaginative. That is pure fact. It is a fact that never fails to put a smile on my husband's face, even on the worst of days.

In the words of a pastor's wife friend of mine, from rural Virginia, who met Rambo not long ago....(imagine a soft, southern drawl):

"This doggy's a gift from God."
"I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it."
~Abraham Lincoln

"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace."
~Milan Kundero

Rejoice in the Lord Always, And Again I Say...

(my daylilies...)

Lately I am discovering that I may , one day, be called to account for every pure, but passed-by pleasure. I will stand before the Lord, accounting for "every idle word", and I believe I'll account for sins of omission. Could one of those sins of omission be all the joy I have omitted through worry and complaint? That is a sobering thought, because I’m also told that the Lord daily loads me with benefits. There is a level of living made fully available to me that I have yet to tap into. Life is a bumper crop, not mere gleanings. There is a fragrant, oily, heaping harvest of first cold pressed virgin joy! This oil of joy can anoint my eyes to view a sunset as though I once was blind, but now I see. This oil can make an ordinary meal into a feast.

The Jewish Talmud teaches that God takes note when I pass up an opportunity to partake of a pure pleasure. The Talmud is not Scripture, but certainly there is a wealth of Scripture exhorting me to gladness. Ecclesiastes 11: 9,10 states, “Rejoice, O young man in thy youth; and let they heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity (fleeting).”

Here, in the Scripture, Solomon actually advises me to greatly rejoice, to follow my heart wherever it leads me, and to fully appreciate every beautiful thing I see. Yet - “for all these things, God will bring me into judgment.” So what is to be my response to this? There are two criteria, only two rules, and I discover them right away: 1) Put away sorrow from my heart, and 2) Put away evil from my flesh.

Life is vanity and full of sorrow and hardship common to both sinner and saint. Trouble is not what identifies me as a child of God – everyone has trouble. Sanctification does not automatically make me a Jesus person – the Pharisees had sanctification down to a science, yet didn’t know the Messiah was eating and drinking amongst them. Being “sanctified”, in many a Christian’s life, is to merely have a firm grasp of the obvious. The Lover of my soul looks for more than this!

So what is this distinguishing mark, this evidence that shouts to the world, “I am His, He is mine”? The answer is simple, really. The answer is gladness. The evidence is the gladness I possess. Ecclesiastes 4: 7-10 says, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts thy works. Let they garments be always white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity; for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” Earlier in Ecclesiastes (what an enigma-of-a-book!) Solomon the writer says things like “Sorrow is better than laughter, because it makes the heart better…”, and “the house of mourning is better than the house of mirth…”

Those thoughts can seem like a contradiction to all the other passages that speak so much of living joyfully. Actually, they aren’t contradictory at all. Solomon, when he speaks of the “house of sorrow”, is speaking of the close of life. This “house of sorrow” is a metaphor for the end – my end. The wisest man who ever lived is telling me over and over to consider my funeral. He implores me to use sorrow, when it comes, to my advantage, and he wants me to consider my death: Will I be able to look back on a glad life, a life well lived?

My life is my testimony, and my testimony is my life. My “testimony” is being written right now today. Once I hit the pearly gates, it is too late to write a testimony. In heaven, I’ll have joy. In heaven, gladness will be a foregone conclusion. The food will be great, the fellowship sweet, and the streets pure gold. It is only today, on this side of eternity, that I have the one shot to write a testimony with my life; a testimony to the goodness of my God. If I’m to obey the Lord, if I’m to write an incredible testimony, I’d better get busy living it up in this life, only remembering to put sorrow away from my heart, and evil from my flesh. Living within those two perimeters sets me absolutely free to experience life with eyes wide open, and the oil of joy dripping from my ears, eyelashes, nose, chin, and fingertips. It is an amazing revelation to discover! I am to make every meal a feast, keep my garments white, and my head anointed with fresh oil. I am to take pleasure in my marriage, and do everything with hilarious intensity. That is harder to do than it sounds.

The flesh – my flesh – would often rather sulk. It would rather whine. It would rather be lazy, because, after all, joy takes effort sometimes. My flesh would rather grouse about the lack of love or joy in others’ lives. My flesh would rather feel noble. Proud and haughty as it is, my flesh would rather haul around heavy burdens in an effort to justify its own existence. I mean, who REALLY lives as though his or her only purpose in life was "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?" There is not near enough melodrama in that doctrinal creed. I simply must borrow trouble from some place in order to give my life meaning and purpose!

Life in a fallen world makes it easy to get my share of it. Meanwhile, if I’d only take the yoke of Christ, and learn of Him, I’d develop a meek and lowly heart and find rest for my soul.

You do know, don’t you, that if it were me instead of Jesus in that wilderness, tempted by the devil, I’d have thrown myself from that highest pinnacle. Oh, the mileage I could have gotten out of that one leap! All my friends would have been deeply impressed with my courage in coming back from that sort of trauma, that sort of test of faith, however self inflicted it would have been. They might have even sent an offering to help with my rehabilitation expenses. Then I could have written a book about it: “My Leap of Faith – My Subsequent Therapy”.

Forget merely standing firm on the Word of God, and, after 40 days tempted by satan himself, modestly leaving the wilderness to have dinner. I’d have gone for the agony and ecstasy of hitting rock bottom, baby! Years of attentive, compassionate counseling, followed by a book contract is more appealing to me than a quiet victory. But then I read Solomon who said that a living dog is better than a dead lion. So I decide to “save the drama for my mamma” and go back to enjoying the life God gives me. With a shrug of my shoulders, I choose the path of the true disciple: which is to take each day exactly as God gives it, do what He asks me to do, offer up thanks in every circumstance, and take joy by effort and force, when necessary.

I know.. that sounds too simple to count as obedience to God. Yet, to the Hebrew people, one of the prime indications of the fear of the Lord was the gladness exhibited in the life!

Here is a Biblical command: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Heaving a ponderous sigh, I realize it is high time I took the Lord seriously. It is high time I truly feared Him. His Word also says, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”

But…doesn’t God realize that once I cast ALL my trouble on Him, then I have no troubles left in my possession? What would I find to talk about...the mere goodness of God? Isn’t that rather boring in comparison to a grand jump off a high cliff?

What if I actually leave behind the rudimentary things of the faith, getting beyond the “firm grasp of the obvious”, what if I truly begin to mature in Christ? What if I….take joy!

It Is GOOD To Be Me...

(my daughter Hannah, and her boyfriend Justin)

(Hannah and Sarah-opening gifts from loving grandparents-matching diamond necklaces)

I am still savoring the memory of a long dinner table at Carabba's (a chain restaurant, Italian, full of darkly stained wood and twinkle lights, with a wood burning pizza oven)...

...fourteen family members crowding the table in the back room we had reserved - each one laughing, each one loving the other. I felt brimful of joy, celebrating my twin daughters' 21st birthdays. We toasted their past, present and future, just by being there, in the moment, with them. We finished a long, lingering dinner with birthday cake, gifts, and hugs all around. What a season of Harvest I am in!

The character "Nacho" in the movie Nacho Libre said, "It sucks to be me!" All personal fears and healthy introspection aside - it is so fantastic to be me lately! I don't always like what I see in my own heart, and I want to pull every weed that threatens to make me barren and unfruitful. But that is only because the fruitful places are so, so satisfying. I want more of this rather charmed, blessed-and-highly-favored kind of life. It certainly has never "sucked" to be me.

I sit here, wanting to convey the very opposite of Nacho's sentiment, fingers poised over the keyboard searching...I've been wracking my brain to think of one word, a verb, that can mean the opposite of "sucks". Why is it, our English language can come up with negative slang like that, but there is no ready, tongue-in-cheek, joy-filled phrase I can quickly grab, to tell you how utterly sweet my life is these days?

It "glories" to be me.

It "shines" to be me.

It "smiles" to be me.

It "sparkles" to be me.


In the end, only one word comes to mind. A word that my teen and twenty-something children would identify with. It would not be the word I would choose - I'm far too artsy. It takes zero creative genuis for a middle aged woman to speak the language of, and partake in the frenetic activities of the upcoming generation. That requires no sense of hard-won personal style. It takes no unique spark whatsoever - you simply follow the lead of your children, all in the name of "relating to them". I can find more thoughtful, delightful, creative and appropriate ways of relating to my children, ways that do not blur the lines between youth and the seasoned elegance of age...

And relate we do, my children and I! We are close, even though I'm no Facebookie. I have a Facebook page. I promise you, however, that there is a large difference between my Facebook page, and that of my teenager's. They don't look anything alike. I don't send pots of virtual herbs, or little buttons, and accept no applications, so don't feel badly if you never get a virtual trinket from me. In addition, something inside me feels sorry for anyone, of any age, who "rates" a friendship, as in "who is the coolest" . My fifteen year old does it, but even my 21-year-olds find it a tad bit pathetic. Ranking precious people in your life, is a sad concept for a twelve year old to ponder, much less a grown woman. A Mother in Zion would never. I watch over my youngest children in the Facebook/Myspace world - it is the real reason I even have a presence there. Life is not all about "Me, Myspace, and I".

So it is with a sense of reluctance I borrow some Young Slang. It is the only word that, honestly, really fits what I am trying to say:

It so rocks to be me!

Well, it does. If you have a better word, do suggest it. Being me is the best, because patience is having her growing-up work in me. I have no need to be younger, richer, or better than the rest. Patience does make you "mature and complete". Henri Nouwen said “...patience means willingness to stay where we are and live out the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” I am learning to love life as God gives it. THAT is why it rocks to be me.

This present season, this present day, this very moment comes to me "trailing clouds of glory"...brand new, baby-fresh. This season, once passed, will be personal history, with only the memories to mark it. This day, once the sun sets, will consist of random impressions, neurons firing in my brain, recalling scent, emotion, flashes of sights and sounds. All that will be left of this day are words written in a journal, and a blog entry. This day will also leave behind the fruit of every word I spoke from the time I awoke, till the time I go back to bed. "May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord!"

I will never live this day again. It contains a gift or gifts that God intensely desires for me to open and learn from. Most of His gifts are educational, in some fashion or other, even the seemingly frivolous gifts like puppies and cherries. No one else can live my life with me, experiencing this blessed and favored thing called "being me". No one else is in my skin, no one else but God Himself is, in reality, part of the fiber of my spiritual being. So if I don't tackle this day's joys as they skip past me, who will taste them, touch them, see and hear them?

It rocks to be me. I am so grateful for these present moments. God is good. Tell me....does it out-and-out rock to be you? You ought to know it! Believe it. Live like it.

A Childhood Game

"Sheila Atchley - take three giant steps!"

"Mother, may I?"

"Yes, you may!"

Remember that childhood game?

A nameless fear has been gripping me of late. It is the fear that some situations will never change. That a relationship will never change. That a child will never change. That I will never change.

There, I said it. I named the fear. And the light that naming the heretofore nameless brings, dispels the darkness.

I always see my weaknesses and besetting sins in all their disgusting glory. They are as plain to me as the hair on my head, as near to me as my own beating heart. And I am afraid of them. I am afraid I will never change, never be the mother I dream of being, never make any progress, not even when I see so vividly exactly where I want to go.

I do see where I want to go. Sometimes I get glimpses of the Sheila Atchley the Father is designing. I see she whom the Father is still busily creating, and I want to BE HER, to the depth of my whole soul. I want to be her right now. Oh, how I want to change.

But I want it to be simple. I want the progress to come lightly and easily. And instantly. In reality, my distance is usually covered inch by tear-soaked, will-relinquished inch. Change comes too slowly. Fear taunts me, telling me that, sure, I will finally change - but one month, one week, or one day too late.

Once in awhile, though, there comes a Fresh Wind. I read, just today, that wind is "hope on wings". Once in awhile, there is a Real and Present Grace. I hear the voice of my heavenly Father - warm, inviting, having all the time in the world to give to just and only me:

"Sheila Atchley! Take three giant steps!"

"Oh Father....may I?"

(could it be true? three giant steps, instead of one wretched inch? can I really wake up tomorrow, and be different? will I really see transformation in this area of my life?)

"Yes, you may!"

And suddenly I am able. Yes I may, and yes I can, and yes I DO! Because He loves me. Because He is still holy. So the gnawing fear that makes my stomach feel like a stone, dissolves. Tense muscles in my forehead and face, soften.

Three giant steps are enough to bring peace. For now.

Spiritual Truths, Illustrated in the Butterfly Garden...

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, everything is made new! II Cor. 5:17

The Black Swallowtail, just by being alive, testifies to the power of God.